Burly, thunderous and as massive as their name would suggest, Canada’s Black Mountain is as heavy as a band gets without actually being a metal band. On their last full-length, 2008’s In the Future, the band pushed that heaviness to its logical limits, creating beastly epics that maintained a balance between Sabbath’s mightiest riffs and Pink Floyd’s most ethereal space rockers. But for a band so adept at constructing such awe-inspiring towers of ironclad guitar rock, Black Mountain deserves just as much credit for their accessible, lighters-in-the-air anthems, from psych-rock singalong “No Satisfaction” to the funky chug of “Drugunaut.”
With third album Wilderness Heart, however, Black Mountain has mostly pushed aside the space rock excursions and 8-minute doom metal epics in favor of a streamlined 10-track album of hook-heavy classic rock. Stephen McBean & Co. have long teased at the idea of such a record, dropping the occasional three-minute power anthem between their more atmospheric or pummeling compositions. With Wilderness Heart, the idea proves just as satisfying in practice as it seemed in theory, juxtaposing hypnotic and mystical folk songs with fist-pumping rockers fit for blasting out of a Trans Am tape deck on a Saturday night.
That the album is adorned with the image of a big ass shark over what appears to be a parking lot makes quite clear to the listener that Black Mountain pull no punches on their latest. While the band has sacrificed some of their more complex and sprawling numbers in favor of a more direct and raucous rock ‘n’ roll album is but a small price to pay. Black Mountain at their most accessible often proves to be Black Mountain at their best. Leadoff track “The Hair Song” is far more Zeppelin than Sabbath, blending the exotic instrumentation of “Kashmir” with the psychedelic chug of any of III‘s rockers. And “Let Spirits Ride” adopts Mötörhead’s speed-metal attack, surging with the fun and fury of “Ace of Spades.”
When Black Mountain is in heavy metal mode, they’re not to be fucked with. Yet some of the folkier numbers on Wilderness Heart also prove to be some of the best. “Buried by the Blues” is a cinematic, string-laden beauty, soaring gently beneath McBean and Amber Webber’s sweetly harmonized vocals. Similarly, “Radiant Hearts” is driven by eerie mellotron hooks, creating a sinister foil to its gentle, fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Pretty as these tunes are, however, the heavier songs remain the headliners, and with good reason. “Old Fangs,” crashing and chugging in a visceral psychedelic swirl, is one of the best songs the band has written. And “Rollercoaster” is no slouch either, slowly pulsing and throbbing with mighty riffs and meaty organ.
Prior to the album’s release, McBean described Wilderness Heart as the band’s “most metal and most folk oriented record so far.” This is basically true, though he left out the part about it being the band’s catchiest. Each song here is among the band’s most immediate, be they loud, lilting or otherwise. And whether or not this is the band’s best album seems irrelevant – this is the one likely to get the most mileage.
Led Zeppelin – III
Black Angels – Passover
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
MP3: “Old Fangs”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.